Mountains and students

I’ve been mountain climbing this past week. Climbing does not come easily to me – I have spent most of my life in the plains. But I love the mountains. And as with most climbing, it has been exhausting and exhilarating. This mountain is part of the Himalayan range and my journey there and back is an analogy – except I did actually climb a bit.
I was called to conduct a workshop for art students who’re at various levels of learning at a university in the mountains.
The workshop was the brainchild of a social organisation that works with the people of the region, providing support, guidance and facilitating business growth. I have a particular interest in guiding young people. If they’re in a position to choose a career, there is usually some confusion about the right one. More so, in the art field. Design? Film making? Apparel? Fine art? Beauty? These are just the broad fields my students tend to look at. Once they start a little research on each, they understand the work better, and it becomes easier to choose. But not everyone has that luxury.
As a teenager, it’s not easy to have clarity, especially when it comes to career paths. When young people start to shed their fun years and look at making a living, life seems to stretch out in a long haul of uncertainty. And these mountains are not close to a big city, so career exposure is limited.

I approach the workshop with anticipation and eagerness. Although this was supposed to be about the finer points of art, I like to guide youngsters towards a fulfilling career as well. Helping someone understand their strengths, paring away the irrelevant and focusing on what matters has always appealed to me.
The students are everything I expect and more. Eager to learn, share, and move ahead. I am pleasantly surprised to see they are quite sorted. They are open, giving, warm. With very few expectations and the perseverance that comes with living a rough life. Most of them come from small towns and hamlets close by, walking to college everyday. Some of them walk as much as five kilometres one way. Braving treacherous mountain paths, roads that have caved in, lonely forest shortcuts, inclement weather. Just like their surroundings, they are tough and sturdy.
As the workshop progresses, I see their ability to focus, and their willingness to absorb. Part of my module is to encourage new ways of thinking and looking. The skills, qualities and activities required for an artist are also essential ingredients for creative learning and indeed, for life. Critical thinking, imagination, experimentation, collaboration, risk taking and problem solving are all skills we need everyday.
The workshop goes well. Five days fly by. The students are eager learners, attentive at the art demos, cleaning up after their work is done, asking many questions. I find them opening up after day one, seeking a quiet moment, talking about their concerns. They are looking for careers that can lead from art, or other avenues. I try to guide them as best I can. After two decades in this field, I know how difficult it can be to make a living here. Not all of us can become selling artists. Making a name is one thing – making a living, quite another. While the two are inter-related, it is not always easy to pay the bills through art alone. These students are blessed with a robust common sense. I want to tell them it’s OK to let go, dream a little, to be free and paint. But I rein in my impulse. They are better off being practical.
These students are my mountains. I can see the distant peaks, silent, luminous, beckoning. I want my students to climb them. And I want to be there when they do. But I also want them to take the little forest pathways, to explore, to stay awhile in the open sunshine and listen to birdsong. As we’re often told, it is the journey that matters, not the destination. I come back hoping they will persevere, find their paths, make a good life for themselves. I think they will.

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